Right Questions. Wrong Response.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matthew 13:53-58 (Holman) When Jesus had finished these parables, He left there. He went to His hometown and began to teach them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “How did this wisdom and these miracles come to Him? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother called Mary, and His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, aren’t they all with us? So where does He get all these things?” And they were offended by Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his household.” And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.
Jesus went home to Nazareth, the small village where He grew up and lived 30 years. Jesus’ homecoming made a huge splash. Our Lord obviously exuded an impressive persona. The townsfolk gathered at the synagogue to hear Jesus teach. Christ always attended public worship. In this, as in all things, He is our example.
Many in Nazareth had been His schoolmates, His neighbors, His dad’s customers. Everyone in town knew Jesus, but He had changed, having been gone long enough to become Israel’s most controversial firestorm, a lightning rod.
People are usually better received at home than elsewhere, unless they have moved up to a higher station in life. We want to be the most honored person in our own group. It hurts us to see a peer become a superior. Being a prophet had gained Jesus much fame. Jesus, who could tell His renown did not sit well, said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his household.”
Unwilling to get past this unjustifiable prejudice, the Nazarenes refused to believe in their most famous son. Unbelief closed their hearts and cost them dearly. It stymied Jesus’ desire to bless them as fully as He would have liked to.
Though in a situation conducive to belief–they heard His words and stories of His miracles–they refused to believe. Why? Let’s learn from their mistakes.
Astonished, they asked, “How did this wisdom and these miracles come to Him?” Right question. How did they go from right question to wrong response?
The stunning incorrect reaction of the Nazarenes turned on the lens they looked at Jesus through. Before asking this good question to Jesus, they should have asked themselves, do we really want to know the source of His wisdom and power, or are we actually aggravated at being outstripped by a hometown boy?
Weighing evidence about Jesus is wise and very healthy. Come with your interrogations, approach Christianity, starting from any field of study you choose, but make sure you have beforehand investigated the motive behind your questions.
We all have three filters through which we ask questions: biased for, biased against, unbiased. Which lens do you view Christ through? Is your inquiry skeptical prodding, or true curiosity-based seeking? The motive behind the question often predicts the outcome. Which filter are you looking through?
This question also applies to believers. What lens do we use in approaching God through prayer in tough times? Do we expect God to hear us, or feel there’s no need to bother? Our attitude has much to do with the intensity of our prayers.
The Nazarenes asked another right question, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” Again, how did they go from a right question to the wrong response?
It can be hard to envision God standing in the midst of wood chips, and wiping sawdust from his eyes. It’s a scene not impossible to believe, but is hard for some to buy into.
The assumption underlying their question again predetermined their own response. They decided in advance a neighbor, one of them, a boy with at least six siblings, the kid next door, could not know more about God than they did. They refused to believe one of their own nobodies had truly become a somebody.
Familiarity often breeds contempt by obscuring the remarkable. Strangers have to their advantage the unknown, resulting in people giving them the benefit of the doubt. Strangers are unencumbered by past prejudices, personal grievances, or envy. This is why in politics a dark horse can rise to the fore. Voters know the weaknesses of the well-known, but fancy the unknown to be of a better sort.
This was the assumption of the Nazarenes, and led straight to a wrong response to Jesus. The same right question, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”, if filtered through a different lens, results in a completely, radically reversed answer.
If we believed God actually did stoop this low, could we ever depict Him more admirably? Anyone who believed the Divine acted this humbly would have to love Him. Rather than reject the notion of condescension, be stunned at it. Jesus bent low. He laid aside heavenly glory to don an earthly carpenter’s robe.
The Nazerenes let His being common thwart belief. Spurgeon used another lens. He said he looked forward to seeing Jesus in Heaven, and would have liked to have seen Jesus in the carpenter’s shop. He looked forward to seeing Jesus on the throne, but wished he had seen Him on the cross, for there His love climaxed.
We Christians readily, without shame or embarrassment, confess our Master was a common man, a carpenter’s son. We believe His step-dad used a hammer to make plows and yokes, and His birth-dad used words to frame a Universe.
His step-dad took pieces and made them into a better whole. His birth-dad made all things out of nothing. His step-dad taught Him to make ladders. His birth-dad let Him build a ladder that allows sinners to climb all the way to Heaven.
The Nazarenes, totally puzzled, asked another question, “Where does He get all these things?” In other words, how did Jesus, without formal training, thwart religious professionals? Right question. How did they make a wrong response?
In this case, they never sought an answer. They left their question hanging in space. Many today do the same thing. They raise good questions, but don’t take time to fully weigh answers. Deeming the spiritual unimportant, and sensing no urgency about religious matters, they let their thoughts flit to trite subjects.
The amazement shown by the Nazarenes and expressed in this question was well-founded. The question begs to be answered. In three years, a lowly carpenter spoke enough wisdom to eclipse all the philosophies of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome combined. His empire of love has spread farther than any other empire.
How can this be? The Nazarenes, completely nonplused by it all, asked the right question. We still view the scene as surreal, beyond human understanding.
Dear unbeliever, use the right lens on this question. If Jesus is only a man, the Nazarenes’ question remains unanswered. His wisdom is inexplicable from a human standpoint. We believe His wisdom came from God because He is God.